Signs of rancor as Georgia's new parliament meets
KUTAISI, Georgia (AP) — The newly elected parliament of Georgia on Sunday held its first session since an opposition coalition defeated President Mikhail Saakashvili's party, which had dominated all branches of government for nearly nine years.
Both sides pledged to work together, but it was clear from tensions during the parliament session that the coming months may be rocky in Georgia, a former Soviet republic now allied with the United States.
By winning the Oct. 1 parliamentary election, the Georgian Dream coalition gained the power to install its billionaire leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, as prime minister and form the government. Now that the new parliament has convened, this was expected to take place within days.
Saakashvili, however, remains president for another year.
In addressing Sunday's session, Saakashvili said the election was proof that the country had become a "normal European democracy," and he said his party was ready to work with Georgian Dream.
"We are not enemies, we are political rivals," Saakashvili said. "Now is not the time for hatred. Now is the time for action and cooperation."
In a sign of the antagonism between the two sides, however, Georgian Dream parliament members refused to stand when Saakashvili entered the hall. Ivanishvili said this showed that the wounds from the contentious election campaign had not healed.
"But there will not be revenge and persecution of political opponents," the future prime minister told journalists. "We will avoid any kind of confrontation, we will do everything for cooperation."
The U.S. government has worked with both sides to help assure a smooth transition. U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland attended the parliamentary session and said it was a step in the right direction. "I congratulate the Georgian people," Norland said. "It is a historic day."
Georgian Dream holds 85 of the 150 seats in parliament. The remaining 65 are held by Saakashvili's United National Movement.
The new speaker of parliament, Davit Usupashvili, was confirmed Sunday by a vote of 88 to 0. The rest of the parliament deputies either abstained or did not attend the session.
The parliament was moved from its sober Soviet-era building on the main avenue in Tbilisi, the capital, to Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city. Sunday's session was the first in the new building, a modern structure with a glass dome.